For many of our clients, breaking down the silos of sales, marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) has been difficult. But in today’s fast-paced business environment, it has become essential to get these three groups working together seamlessly—to integrate them so each supports the efforts of, and helps set the goals for the others.
Ad agencies and marketing firms are often called on to help plan and execute marketing; with luck and good sense, the agency is privy to the client’s strategic planning and marketing goals. But companies need to also understand how sales efforts align with that marketing and vice-versa. And they also need to retain and grow customer relationships to make sales easier and marketing less costly.
How can agencies help clients to better integrate these three silos—to break down the walls and create cross-functional marketing efforts that boost performance in all three areas?
Agencies today are seldom allowed to join the planning process. Forty-one percent of agencies reported that more than half of their client assignments were projects, per RSW/US’s 2017 Agency-Marketer New Business Report. And 67 percent of marketers said they have an in-house agency, with many using that group for full-campaign development, PR, media planning and buying, and digital marketing/advertising. Agencies are increasingly treated as vendors. But it does not have to be that way.
We have long recommended that agencies strive to turn projects into programs. There is good data available to show that combining marketing tactics multiplies marketing impact and improves ROI. Taking a project and proposing ways to make that project perform better is a good starting point for getting agencies more involved in planning.
Another way to open the door to a strategic relationship with clients is to position your agency as strategic marketing partners, not mere vendors. Be selective about the projects you accept. Recognize that the work you do can lock in perceptions of the agency as just one among many similar, vendor-type contractors. Learn to examine a project for its potential benefits to your agency, and say “no” now and then. Always explain why you are saying no… and suggest that you have ideas for making a project more effective, if they’d like to hear them. Then offer a proposal outlining those ideas.
Work with in-house agencies to boost their marketing efforts through strategic planning. Ask in-house groups hard questions: “How does this sync with sales support?” “Is there a channel marketing element here?” “Do you have lead processing and fulfillment built into this program?” “Are you planning follow-up efforts to retain customers and encourage re-purchase?” Be the big-picture people.
Make and nurture contacts in client sales and CRM departments. Start conversations around how marketing helps or supports their efforts… or does not. Look for opportunities to propose ways to improve integrated planning. You can help steer clients to get people from sales, marketing and CRM at the same planning table—and hopefully, invite you to take a seat as well.
Even with just a project, ask smart questions about how it fits into broader marketing objectives and the strategic plan. The best way to climb out of the vendor slot and into the role of strategic partner is to not behave like a vendor. Demonstrate consistently that you have so much more to offer. Coach AEs and new business people in how to turn conversations into strategic discussions. Pre-plan strategies for boosting projects into broader and more effective programs. Follow-up when your people spot opportunities to expand one-off assignments into potentially more profitable relationships.
To help clients break down their silos, you need to gain clients’ trust, respect and acceptance as the people who can deliver higher value and a more integrated marketing, sales and customer relationship management effort. Agency of record is rare, but you can still be a marketing consultant, not just a vendor. To be seen as one, you have to be one. Behave as you want to be perceived. Then you can focus on integrating clients’ Big Three.